World over, bomb blast trials seem to have one thing in common – long gestation between events and trials. The serial bomb blasts at Mumbai took place on 21st April 1993 and the cases in the Special Court saw their denouement through judgments after a protracted trial in May 2007. The RSS office bomb blast took place on 8th August 1993 and the judgment against the accused was pronounced on 21st June 2007. The Coimbatore bomb blasts that shook the city on 13th February 1998 led to large scale arrests and the judgment in the case was delivered on 6th August 2007. Several hundreds lost their lives in Mumbai. A handful of 12 bright youngsters were consumed in Chennai blast. The Coimbatore devastation took a tally of nearly 60 lives. Perhaps, the worst case of catastrophe through terrorists’ plans were unleashed at the World Trade Center in New York and at Washington on September 11, 2001. If you thought trials in foreign regimes invariably got under way with god speed, you may not be correct. The trial against the principal accused has begun just now at Guantanamo Bay, near one of the US army detention camps.
Probably, we have seen or heard about the course of trials in the bomb blast cases rather dispassionately. There was utmost civility in the conduct of prosecutors and the defence lawyers. The judges treated the suspects with utmost courtesy in courts. The newspaper reports were by and large unbiased and objective. When the ultimate decisions came, the public truly believed that the judiciary had done their best. No one attributed motives against judges. No one called the prosecution agencies of being inept. No one carried hatred against the worst criminals. The philosophical distancing of the event to the persons involved had already taken place. The protracted trials had numbed our sensitivities and it mattered least who were convicted and who were let off. All the same, there was always a strong feeling that justice had been done. All the cases are now before the Supreme Court and when judgments are delivered, there may be a reversal of fortunes for some, there may be confirmation of convictions for some. Honestly, do you care?
The way the case has opened in US amid suffocating military security has not surprised many. The principal accused (where is Osama, by the way?) brought to trial, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) is reported to have mocked at a co-accused al-Hawsawi, if he was in the American army for, at first, agreeing to be represented by a US soldier. KSM had been earlier picked up, after the event, from Rawalpindi, Pakistan in 2003. He speaks impeccable English and chants in Arabic and translates to the court the purport of his hymns in English. He has announced that he has decided to defend himself and does not want lawyer’s assistance. When the judge, a marine colonel, asked if he understood the significance of that decision - as he was facing the death penalty – KSM has made clear that he has understood very well. He has said, he had been looking to become a martyr for a very long time. KSM seemed happy at the attention he was getting from the media and the way he handled the judge. BBC reporter claims that at times, it was difficult to tell who was running the proceedings. Another accused Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali sounded off, with equal defiance, any offer of assistance through any lawyer. Yet another accused Ramzi Binalshibh has no problems about assistance through lawyers but says he also wants martyrdom. Now in India, the convict Mohammed Afzal in Parliament Terrorist Attack case, defies the government just to hang him as per the Court judgment but the government is scared to make him a martyr!
The ideological convictions of the accused in some criminal trials could unnerve many a judge. There were times when some districts in Tamil Nadu were in the grips of different kind of terrorism that believed in blowing up bridges and buildings (mostly government property) to get the attention of the public to sell their ideologies against what they believed to be anti-people establishment. When the suspects were brought for trial, they enjoyed themselves. They would deliver long speeches, sang ideological songs, distributed pamphlets to all persons in courts, denounced the establishment and all done, they would sit quietly in the bench in the ‘accused box’. If the judgment was delivered convicting them, they gave further speeches and walked behind the escort police without remorse to the van waiting to transport them to prison. If they were acquitted, they would not rejoice; they would announce that the fight was not over and walked away to resume their work!
A martyr, in Greek martys meant ‘witness’. A secular meaning gained religious overtone gradually, when a person that bore witness to truth by religious convictions was tortured and done to death. Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism have it in their religious texts that extol martyrdom. In the secular context, the term was applied to those who used violence, such as those who died for a nation’s glory during wartime. It also applied to non-violent individuals whose lives are sacrificed in their struggle for independence, civil rights, etc. A world under one religion, or with or without religion cannot end terror. Court judgments, by taking away the lives of terrorists cannot also end terrorism and cannot assure the guilty, martyrdom. The people like us that stand witness to the end of terrorism alone are the martyrs. Trials, convictions and sentence have meanings only to persons who are afraid of suffering, confinement, injustice or death. If a person sees suffering as a reward for plans adroitly executed, what is there to worry? If confinement is seen as liberation to end worldly pleasures, where is the agony? If the sense of justice is blinded to the sufferings of innocent people why would the killings be averted? If death is the final redemption to reach the Ultimate, what is there to fear?